Sex workers want to be legalised

Sex workers from around the province marched to the premier’s office on Thursday and handed over a memorandum demanding the decriminalisation of sex work, because they say the current laws keep them oppressed and stigmatised.

Thursday marked International Sex Worker Rights Day and members of associations in nine African cities marched for sex workers’ rights.

A sex worker wears a mask to hide her identity at the International Sex Worker Rights Day protest. Picture: Michael Walker. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The Cape Town march was attended by the African Sex Workers’ Alliance (Aswa), Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), the Sisonke Sex Workers’ Movement, Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) and members of the public.

“We call for access to health services and an end to human rights violations against sex workers. When we dare to be powerful, to go on to the streets and make our voices heard, we know there are those who will try to shame and ridicule us, with the hope that we will be isolated and silenced,” Aswa regional co-ordinator Kyomya Macklean said. “But this won’t be the case.”

Protesters wore masks to help protect them from stigma and abuse, and carried red umbrellas, symbolising protection. A sex worker from Gugulethu, who only wanted to be known by her working name “Gugu”, said they were victims of exploitation, police brutality and other abuse daily.

“I’ve been a sex worker and have operated in Bellville for the past four years. It was never my dream to do this, but a reality as there is no work that will pay enough to provide for my family,” she said.

“Becoming a sex worker is a reality when there is no food on the table. We are human beings trying to make a living and shouldn’t be judged.”

A homeless transgender sex worker, who only wanted to be known by her working name “Chevaunacym”, said she had been in the industry for the past 18 years.

“The sex industry has grown since I started and for many it is a result of poverty. I don’t believe anyone strives to do it,” she said.

“We as sex workers are raped, pepper-sprayed, sworn at and have no voice because police don’t regard us as citizens. I am currently attending night school where I hope to complete my basic education and training course.”

WLC attorney Stacey-Leigh Manoek said the WLC and Sweat had “monitored the human rights abuses that are inflicted on sex workers by the police and the vice squad”. She hoped the squad would be disbanded.

She said the WLC had identified various types of abuse including harassment, rape, being issued with unlawful spot fines, being unlawfully arrested and placed in cells with men, and intimidation and blackmail.

“Our research has shown that, of the sex workers interviewed, 27 percent were subject to unlawful arrest and assaults related to the arrest,” she said.

“This is not only a violation of the previous court order obtained by Sweat, but also a violation of the constitutional rights of sex workers. They enjoy the same constitutional rights as others, which include the right to inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected (section 10).

“In addition, everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause.” - Cape Times